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FINTECH TAKES OFF AT USF

A NEW ACADEMIC CENTER, ACCELERATOR AND MAJOR GIFT SEEK TO MAKE UNIVERSITY AND REGION A HOTSPOT FOR THE INDUSTRY

Matthew Cimitile

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College Cash is a fintech startup out of Fort Worth, Texas, that utilizes everyday behaviors, such as posting pictures on Instagram or being tipped as an Uber driver, to reduce student loan debt. The platform helps users track money they earn for helping companies increase user engagement and brand awareness or tips from being part of the gig economy and disburse it towards paying off their loans.

CEO Demetrius Curry presented his innovative startup along with 15 other CEOs from around the country and overseas during the inaugural FinTech|X Accelerator Pitch Night event on the USF St. Petersburg campus back in June. During the event, each company gave a fourminute pitch explaining a particular problem in the world of finance. The pitches included the financial technology solution their company had developed as well as financial projections of where the startups could be in a couple of years based on current growth and investment.

Those in the audience included St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch, fellow entrepreneurs and members of the business community, along with potential funders.

The pitch night event, along with the threemonth accelerator program it was a part of, was one of the reasons 2022 became the year fintech took off at the University of South Florida, with the goal of making the university and the region of Tampa Bay a hotspot for this emerging industry.

ACCELERATING FINTECH STARTUPS

Fintech, short for “financial technology,” aims to improve traditional methods of delivering financial services to simplify financial transactions, making them more accessible and, often, more affordable to consumers and businesses. Fintech automation impacts everything from mobile banking and insurance to crowdfunding, blockchain, cryptocurrency and investment apps.

The fintech accelerator will allow our campus to play an active role in the growth of fintech across the Tampa Bay region.

Near the end of 2021, the USF Muma College of Business appointed inaugural director Michael Wiemer to launch a new Fintech Center at USF. One of the first developments was the announcement of a strategic partnership with Tampa Bay Wave, Inc. to create an accelerator program in St. Petersburg. The accelerator, held on the USF St. Petersburg campus, is designed to assist high-potential, high-growth startups in the fintech industry through mentoring, pitch coaching and investment training. The overall goal of the partnership is to transition startups to sustainable, scalable and profitable businesses.

“The fintech accelerator will allow our campus to play an active role in the growth of fintech across the Tampa Bay region,” said Gary Patterson, dean of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance on the St. Petersburg campus, which is one of six schools within the Muma College of Business. “We are excited to see the new ideas and companies this accelerator generates and what it offers the industry.”

The inaugural accelerator began in April of 2022, with 16 businesses selected from across the United States and abroad, including companies from Israel, England, Saudi Arabia and Germany. Of the 16 startups, three were led by women entrepreneurs, with significant representation also from military veterans, LGBTQ+ and minority founders. While some of the startups were in the early revenue stages, others were generating more than $1 million in annual recurring revenue.

Throughout the three-month program, companies were given access to a dedicated accelerator managing director, mentoring with notable tech founders and fintech industry giants, sales training and pitch and investor coaching. Towards the conclusion of the program, each company participated in the pitch night event as well as a Demo Day, where CEOs pitched their companies to an audience of accredited investors, venture capitalists and other fintech industry leaders.

“The inaugural FinTech|X cohort was a tremendous success,” said Richard Munassi, the accelerator’s managing director with Tampa Bay Wave, a tech startup support organization. “From investor relations and customer engagement to revenue growth, the 16 companies are moving quickly. During this 90day program, their company growth includes six to seven-figure investment commitments and partnerships with major international financial institutions, like VISA, Experian and JP Morgan Chase.”

The second cohort for the FinTech|X Accelerator is planned to return to the USF St. Petersburg campus for the fall of 2023.

KATE TIEDEMANN, ELLEN COTTON GIVE $14 MILLION TO ENHANCE USF FINANCE PROGRAM

The launch of the FinTech Center and accelerator program showcased USF’s strategic entry into fintech. The Center also seeks to advance the reputation of St. Petersburg as an innovative fintech community, and the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance as a hub of excellence in fintech teaching, research, innovation and workforce development.

“As fintech continues to drive innovation and transformation, it is important for our students – this region’s future workforce – to understand the increasingly strategic and operational role of fintech in the modern business organization,” Wiemer said. “Gaining this knowledge will support our students as future leaders who can effectively lead in complex business environments.”

This initiative received a massive boost in April of 2022 when the University of South Florida announced new gifts totaling $14 million from St. Petersburg philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton to support making the university a hub of excellence in fintech.

The gifts go towards the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, which has students and faculty on each of USF’s three campuses. The gift will support a four-pillar vision for fintech, which includes hiring world-class faculty to conduct scholarly inquiries into emerging opportunities, as well as assessing fintech risks and threats and how to mitigate them. The second pillar of the plan, to embed fintech modules into core curricula, will ensure all USF business students, regardless of major, have meaningful exposure to the topic.

“It brings us great joy to help USF students build their expertise in fintech, so they are ready for the fast-changing business world that awaits them,” Tiedemann and Cotton said in a statement. “The faculty on the USF St. Petersburg campus, on all USF campuses, possess the talent and experience needed to effectively develop the curricula that will make USF a leader in this space. Fintech spans many disciplines, and we couldn’t be happier to play our part in creating new opportunities for students.”

The additional pillars of the vision include broader outreach to share expertise with the community through conferences and workplace certificate programs, and making the school a place where students and fintech entrepreneurs alike come for education and mentoring, where startups come for resources and major firms come for talent.

The gifts further solidify the Tampa Bay region’s footprint in fintech, including a strong presence in St. Petersburg that has come as an outgrowth of the city’s strong roots in the financial services sector. The area is home to Raymond James, now the largest financial service provider outside of Wall Street. According to the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., financial services is St. Pete’s largest employment sector, and the thriving tech community has drawn companies such as ARK Invest and Dynasty Financial Partners to relocate to the area.

Gaining this knowledge will support our students as future leaders who can effectively lead in complex business environments.

“Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton have made an indelible impact on the University of South Florida, and their generous new gifts continue their legacy of preparing our business students for a bright future,” said USF President Rhea Law. “Fintech is a rapidly emerging field, and Kate and Ellen have paved the way for a cutting-edge program at USF that will help fill the talent pipeline to serve the Tampa Bay region’s thriving tech community.”

The support for fintech is the latest example of Tiedemann and Cotton’s investment in USF. The $10 million gift announced in April of 2022 is in addition to $4 million that was given during the COVID-19 pandemic to endow two professorships. Additional prior contributions from these philanthropists have transformed the St. Petersburg campus’ school of business and finance.

“Kate and Ellen have a deep passion for the university, its students and its faculty. Their longstanding support of the USF St. Petersburg campus has been transformative. These gifts will help generations of students prepare for the workplace,” said USF Foundation CEO Jay Stroman. “Their support also signals to other philanthropists that giving to USF is a smart investment that impacts lives and the larger community.”